We send them to war and they come home and end up on the streets. Is this supporting the troops? A new study shows:
Veterans make up one in four homeless people in the United States, though they are only 11 percent of the general adult population, according to a report to be released Thursday.
And homelessness is not just a problem among middle-age and elderly veterans. Younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are trickling into shelters and soup kitchens seeking services, treatment or help with finding a job.
The Veterans Affairs Department has identified 1,500 homeless veterans from the current wars and says 400 of them have participated in its programs specifically targeting homelessness.
Some veteran’s advocates say “the early presence of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan at shelters does not bode well for the future.” In fact, after the Vietnam War, “it took roughly a decade for the lives of Vietnam veterans to unravel to the point that they started showing up among the homeless.” Now veteran’s advocates are worried that “intense and repeated deployments leave newer veterans particularly vulnerable” and there will be a new crop of homeless veterans on the streets when Bush’s war based on lies comes to an end.
“We’re going to be having a tsunami of them eventually because the mental health toll from this war is enormous,” said Daniel Tooth, director of veterans affairs for Lancaster County, Pa.
While services to homeless veterans have improved in the past 20 years, advocates say more financial resources still are needed. With the spotlight on the plight of Iraq veterans, they hope more will be done to prevent homelessness and provide affordable housing to the younger veterans while there’s a window of opportunity.
“When the Vietnam War ended, that was part of the problem. The war was over, it was off TV, nobody wanted to hear about it,” said John Keaveney, a Vietnam veteran and a founder of New Directions in Los Angeles, which provides substance abuse help, job training and shelter to veterans.
“I think they’ll be forgotten,” Keaveney said of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. “People get tired of it. It’s not glitzy that these are young, honorable, patriotic Americans. They’ll just be veterans, and that happens after every war.”
Keaveney said it’s difficult for his group to persuade some homeless Iraq veterans to stay for treatment and help because they don’t relate to the older veterans. Those who stayed have had success — one is now a stock broker and another is applying to be a police officer, he said.
“They see guys that are their father’s age and they don’t understand, they don’t know, that in a couple of years they’ll be looking like them,” he said.
During the ’04 election cycle, John Kerry visited New Directions in Los Angeles and spoke on the plight of homeless veterans frequently. Aid for veteran’s is still tops on the list of issues Kerry champions. With the release of this study, I’d like to see this issue come front and center and start getting addressed by the ’08 candidates. We simply must do more for our veterans. We can not send them to war and have them come home only to end up on the streets.